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Baghdad police round up 500 suspects in raids
Updated: 2004-07-14 00:37

Baghdad police detained more than 500 suspects in a crackdown on crime Tuesday as the interim government and the United States urged their allies to resist demands from kidnappers holding foreign hostages in Iraq.

Drug dealers and arms traders were among those arrested.

Iraqi police recruit Hadeel Alwan, 20, aims her Glock 9mm pistol at a target on the gunnery range at Baghdad's law enforcement academy June 26, 2004 while watched by a U.S. Army instructor, (L). Iraq is bringing women into the police for the first time in decades, aiming to swell the ranks of a force working in one of the world's most dangerous places for fighting crime. [Reuters]
The captors of a Filipino made no public response to confused signals from Manila over whether it intends to comply with their demands to bring its troops home early from Iraq. Two Bulgarians are also under threat, pending militant demands.

Any Philippine decision to advance the scheduled departure date of August 20 for the 51-strong humanitarian force would be unwelcome to the United States and to the Baghdad government.

"While this is a decision for the Philippine government, we believe such a decision would send the wrong signal to terrorists around the globe," a senior U.S. official said.

Mowaffaq Abboud, an adviser to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, declined comment on Manila's stance, but said the government felt it was unwise to give in to kidnappers.

"This would encourage the terrorists to continue these practices," he told Reuters.

The government has vowed to tackle criminals, kidnappers, insurgents and foreign militants behind the violence and lawlessness sweeping Iraq since last year's U.S.-led invasion.

"Till now the police have arrested 527 people in Rusafa," an Interior Ministry source said of Tuesday's raids that began in the early hours in a swathe of eastern Baghdad.

He said the sweep had netted suspected drug dealers and weapons traders, and would be expanded to other parts of Baghdad. The source said the suspects would be investigated, adding he could not say how long the raids would last.


"Organized crime is present in many areas, and we have to end it," said the source.

The raid followed a similar operation Monday in Baghdad's Kifah district in which scores of people were detained. Saddam Hussein released all common criminals in a pre-war amnesty widely seen as contributing to a crime wave in Iraq.

In separate raids in three cities Monday, Kurdish and U.S. forces detained 15 militants from a group accused by Washington of links to al Qaeda, a senior Kurdish official said.

Among those detained in Kirkuk, Samarra and Baquba, all north of Baghdad, was a suspected leader of Ansar al-Islam, said the official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

Iraqi National Guardsmen fought a gunbattle with insurgents in a car who had fired on their patrol in the northern city of Mosul Tuesday. An officer in the security force said one guard and two attackers were killed. Nine guards were wounded.


The government, trying to enforce its grip after taking over from U.S.-led occupiers on June 28, remains dependent on a 160,000-strong, mostly American, multinational force.

In Brussels, Foreign Minister Zebari urged NATO to speed up promised training for his country's fledgling security forces and to provide border security support and military equipment.

"We need this training you promised us in Istanbul to be carried out as soon as possible. We need it, in fact we are in a race against time and it's a matter of urgency," the foreign minister said after meeting NATO ambassadors.

The 26-nation alliance agreed at a summit in Turkey last month to help train Iraqi security forces, but France and Germany object to any collective NATO presence inside Iraq.

The government has promised to wield a "sharp sword" against diehard insurgents and foreign militants, but also plans to offer an amnesty for Iraqi fighters who lay down their arms.

The Philippine army was awaiting word from the government on whether it would withdraw from Iraq by July 20 as demanded by kidnappers threatening to behead hostage Angelo de la Cruz.

Foreign Secretary Delia Albert repeated a statement by her deputy that the Philippines would withdraw its troops "as soon as possible" but did not clarify what this meant.

Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis had made the offer in an appeal to the captors aired on Arabic Al Jazeera television.

The kidnappers had extended an execution deadline for De la Cruz to Monday night. They then said they had moved him "to the place of implementing the punishment," Al Jazeera said.

Bulgaria, which has vowed not to withdraw its troops from Iraq, reiterated that its two nationals held hostage there were alive despite the expiry of an execution deadline Friday.

A group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has already beheaded an American and a South Korean in Iraq, had threatened to kill truck drivers Georgi Lazov, 30, and Ivailo Kepov, 32, unless U.S.-led forces freed Iraqi prisoners.

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